Five years after becoming spiritual leader of Kemp Mill Synagogue, Rabbi Brahm Weinberg continues to fine tune what he calls the shul’s core values.
The 38-year-old father of four is only the second rabbi KMS has had. Its first, Rabbi Jack Bieler, led the Modern Orthodox synagogue for 25 years. “It was definitely big shoes to fill. I think, primarily, that was a positive thing,” Weinberg said. While the rabbi said he feels “much more at home, there is still a bit of a barrier. People have 25 years of history. I only have five.”
It was never his goal to change KMS, having liked what he saw of the leadership and congregation even before he was hired. Weinberg, who grew up in Montreal and previously worked in New York and Connecticut, said he was attracted to Kemp Mill Synagogue’s commitment to prayer, youth and learning.
“Serious prayer was one of the core principals of the shul,” he noted. He has continued that emphasis but added “a big, big musical Shabbat every year with acappella singers.” The idea, he explained, is to inspire congregants and draw in new people.
As for the core emphasis on learning, Weinberg said he has broadened serious Torah engagement to include weekly videos, five-minute podcasts and WhatsApp Talmud discussion groups.
Weinberg is proud of his efforts to get KMS out into the wider community. He pointed to combined programs with other nearby Orthodox shuls in the Kemp Mill area as well as involvement and support of local charities.
Since becoming KMS’s rabbi, Weinberg began the annual Peace of Mind project. One year, Israeli soldiers spent a week here. Another year, 35 congregants visited Poland. And one year the synagogue hosted, fed and ran nightly programs for yeshivah students and staff. “We had hundreds of people coming out throughout the week,” he said.
“KMS is blessed to have Rabbi Weinberg as our Rabbi,” Saul Newman, a past president who was on the search committee that helped choose Weinberg, wrote in an email. “We knew from the moment we met him that he was truly special. He has touched the personal, spiritual, intellectual and religious hearts and minds of all members.”
Newman continued, “His success can easily be measured in the growth of our membership, numerically, intellectually, spiritually and religiously, as well as our growing commitment to mitzvot and chesed. He has inspired so many of us to be better Jews and better people.”
Weinberg said KMS has grown by about 10 member units each year since he arrived. “There is a steady flow of new members every year,” he said.
Leading a congregation during the global pandemic has been challenging, he admitted. Since June, KMS slowly has been welcoming members back to its building, only outdoors at first. Currently, a few people worship in the 500-seat sanctuary.
Like most congregations, KMS took to Zoom, for services as well as social gatherings, including game night and even a live, virtual tour of Jerusalem.
But Weinberg strongly believes the personal touch is important and KMS conducts what he referred to as “calling sprees,” usually around a holiday and just to say hello. Goody bags filled with food, flowers and reading materials also have been distributed.
He says, “I’ve tried to build a real culture of warmth.”